Keep Rivers upright: Philip Rivers was sacked four times and was hit at least seven times in 31 dropbacks against Cincinnati. That doesn’t cut it in the NFL. Now, the Bengals front seven is as good as any in the NFL and the Chargers started another new player on the offensive line (Chris Hairston), but the Vikings defense is no pushover. Protecting Rivers is paramount and the Chargers must do a better job of it. Chris Watt didn’t practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday with a groin injury but will likely play Sunday in Minnesota. Still, the second-year center is learning a new position and first team reps in practice are invaluable, especially for an offensive line that has struggled to gel the first two games of the season. Like Watt, D.J. Fluker did not practice Wednesday but was a limited participant Thursday. His status for Sunday is more uncertain than Watt’s, however, having been out since late in the first game against Detroit.
Control the clock: The Chargers had 131 rushing yards against the Bengals, for an average of 5.2 yards per carry. It’s an improvement for this San Diego ground game and especially for rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who flashed big runs of 20, 26 and 27-yard gains. If the Chargers can bring that to Minnesota, they can control the clock and keep the Vikings’ offense – and let’s face it, Peterson – off the field. Make Peterson watch from the sideline as Rivers methodically works his way down the field like he’s done so many times before, successfully. (This will of course depend on San Diego’s ability to not fall behind and have to play catch up, especially in the second half.)
Reeling in the run: Against the Bengals, San Diego’s defense allowed 175 rushing yards. That’s a problem. The front seven needs to be physical, stout and dominant against the Vikings if they’re going to stop the Adrian Peterson and make Minnesota one-dimensional. The key to this game is eliminating the run as much as possible and forcing young Teddy Bridgewater to throw the ball, while making him uncomfortable in the pocket. If the Chargers can limit Minnesota’s talented ground game, they’ll have a chance. If they can’t, well … Strap in, kids, because it’s going to be a long game.
Tight end carousel: Ladarius Green was diagnosed with his second concussion in eleven days when he reported feeling concussion-like symptoms on Tuesday, according to head coach Mike McCoy. He was not diagnosed while playing in Cincinnati where the concussion happened. The concussion marks his third in less than a year. Green was a limited participant in Wednesday and Thursday’s practice. If he isn’t cleared to play, expect David Johnson, John Phillips, and the recently re-signed Kyle Miller, who was waived September 15th, to play in Green’s absence.
Road wins count too: This is the second road trip in a row for this Chargers team. The first one ended in a loss. Even though the season is young, winning on the road is difficult and will only get tougher as the season progresses, injuries stack up, the trips get longer and the weather gets colder. The Chargers need this win not only to make it easier on themselves when the schedule gets tougher, but also to build confidence in their ability to win away from home. They need to prove to themselves they’re the type of team that can do it, even after a loss on the road the week before.
For a more in-depth look at the Chargers matchup against the Vikings, listen to Annie and Andrew’s game preview podcast here.